The Loss of Reality from the Distant Lights

On the fourth day of creation God set the Sun and Moon in the sky. Placed millions of miles from the Earth, the Sun did more than allow life to exist on the planet; it allowed time to be measured in seconds and seasons.

The distance between Earth and Sun changes throughout the year bringing warmer and colder weather, and the rotation of the Earth produces evolving shadows from the sunlight which enables people to tell time. As the seasons and time of day change, our views of the world around us also change. One minute the item before us may be almost black. The next it could be purple, followed by blue and red then brown. Our senses take in the natural world, and its constant evolution.

The mountains of Las Vegas at 6:16, 6:20, 6:23, 6:29 and 6:45am
(photos: First.One.Through)

The moon and stars also enable mankind to chart its path during the night. The various natural sources of light enable people know where they stand in time and place.

Man’s Ever-Encroaching Light and Lit Content

Man was able to harness and control some of nature’s light in developing and using torches and lanterns over thousands of years. However, it was in 1878 with the creation of the first light bulb that mankind began to change the essence of how we see the natural world.

It its first decades of existence, light bulbs illuminated its immediate surroundings. The light bulb first lit up a circumference of several feet and then, as the power grew, it illuminated even larger areas. But in 1927, the very nature of man’s light changed, as it also became the focus of attention with the creation of the television. No longer was man’s light used only to appreciate the natural world; it was used as a replacement to the natural world. Man’s light became embedded with its own truth.

For decades, that source of light and content remained roughly eight to ten feet from our eyes. That abridged space still afforded our eyes the ability to incorporate some other items in our peripheral vision. But the distance would continue to shrink over time, as would our incorporation of the natural world.

The first computers came to corporations in the 1960’s and individuals began to acquire them in the 1980’s and 1990’s, bringing the lit screens just two to four feet from our eyes. The distance would shrink again in the 21st century, as smartphones with luminous screens were welcomed into the hands of the masses, shrinking the space between our eyes and the screens to just one to two feet. Now, with the advent of virtual reality goggles, all space has disappeared.

AT&T’s vision for new virtual reality games based on its DC characters

The distance which had afforded us the space to see God’s creations has been eliminated. The natural world is shut out in favor of man-made reality.

Man’s Reality: The Destruction of Time and of Man

For centuries, mankind did not only use the sunlight to tell the time of day, it understood the nature of how the world changed based on the sunlight.

In the 1890’s French artist Claude Monet painted a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral at different times of day. While the subject of the church’s facade remained constant, Monet changed the color scheme based on the lighting of the sun. In doing so, each work of art was inherently time-stamped. A viewer understood whether the painting of the church was from the morning, during the day or at sunset, based on the palette of colors.

In the 1960’s, pop artist Roy Lichtenstein recreated the Monet series in his own style.

Roy Lichtenstein’s Rouen Cathedral series at The Broad
(photo: First.One.Through)

The various colors used by Monet designed to show the cathedral under different lighting conditions in moments of time was replaced by Lichtenstein into uniform sets of color. Lichtenstein’s yellow Rouen no longer conveyed daytime, his red was not sunset and his navy could not be considered night. The pop artist eliminated the element of time, as color was just meant as color, available in any and all shades.

Lichtenstein’s style also replaced Monet’s varied and emotional brushstrokes with machine-like circles. While he painted the artworks by hand, Lichtenstein gave his artwork a poster-like, mass produced cold feeling.

In just 70 years, man migrated from personal, emotional expressions of how sunlight influenced the world around us, to art which minimized both time and man’s own unique creativity.

The “Triumph” of Man’s/ Computer’s Virtual Reality

Until roughly 2008, the use of the internet ran roughly along working hours as people logged into their computers at work. However, with the ubiquity of connected cellphones and tablets, data consumption during the morning and evening hours – all of the way until 11:00pm – has now matched, and in some cases surpassed, data usage at work. People are consuming video content during all of their waking hours, and doing it at closer and closer distances to their eyes.

Technology is eliminating the physical space which enables us to absorb God’s natural world, as we allow ourselves to be ensnared by man’s manufactured reality. While the circling sun let us know that time moved on, the digital lights blind us of those same lost moments.

The sad loss of reality afforded by God’s distant lights will be rapped in the future by an avatar during a cinematic sequence in a virtual reality game. And alas, the masses will never understand the reference, as they parry the poetry to pursue additional precious points.


Related First.One.Through articles:

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The Relationship of Man and Beast

The Descendants of Noah

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

The Jewish Holy Land

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The Descendants of Noah

After God destroyed most of the world in the flood, He promised that He would never use water to destroy all living things again. After that covenant, the three sons of Noah – Shem, Cham and Japheth – embarked on settling the world anew:

שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה אֵ֖לֶּה בְּנֵי־נֹ֑חַ וּמֵאֵ֖לֶּה נָֽפְצָ֥ה כָל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole world branched out. (Genesis 9:19)

Genesis 10 relayed the descendants of the three sons and early bibles sought to educate people where each of those children settled by including maps inside the bound volumes. The most famous of these was one completed by a Benedectine Monk named Arias Montanus in the 16th century.

Benedict Arias Montanus Sacrae Geographiae Tabulam ex Antiquissimorum Cultor (1571)

Benito Arias Montanus (1527-1598) was born in Spain and entered the priesthood around 1559 where he gained a reputation as an important biblical scholar. In 1568, he was commissioned by King Phillip II to supervise a new polygot (multi-language) bible which would become part of the king’s scholarly volumes on the bible. This work was to replace the first “Royal Bible” completed by the Escorial Library in 1514.

Written in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Syriac, and printed in Antwerp between 1569 and 1573, the polygot bible caused a stir. Montanus was reported to the Spanish Inquisition for purportedly giving preference to the Jewish rabbinic reading of the scriptures. His trial lasted several years and the Inquisition was finally convinced by the biblical scholar Juan de Mariane that Montanus’s interpretation of the text did not contradict Catholic dogma, acquitting him in 1580.

Montanus’s world map above shows the descendants of Shem, Cham and Japheth in Hebrew and Latin. Japeth’s sons are listed in the center of the map in Roman numerals; Shem’s sons are listed on the right side and indexed with numbers, while Cham’s sons are indexed with letters.

Japhet’s sons are portrayed as covering Europe. Sepharad is located in modern Spain, Sarphat is placed in France and Yavan in Greece – just like the modern Hebrew names for those countries. The lone exception is Madai who is placed in modern Iran. Biblical scholars consider Madai to be connected to the ancient Persian people of Medes.

Cham’s sons are placed throughout the Middle East and Africa, stretching from modern Iran to Morocco and Kenya. Mizrayim and Pelishtim are both located in northern Egypt, while Canaan is found in modern Jordan.

The children of Shem, from whom Abraham and the Jewish people are descended, were placed on the map from eastern Europe, Iraq and Kuwait eastward over China and Russia with a land bridge to the Americas. In a fascinating placement, Montanus placed Ophir both in modern-day California and Peru. It is a curious placement because Ophir was the city from which King Solomon imported gold to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 10:11). While it was known at this time that the Aztecs in Mexico had considerable gold, gold was not discovered in California for another 275 years.


The descendants of Noah scattered over the planet as described in Genesis 11:31, “according to their families, their languages, their lands and their nations.” They are part of the opening of the bible, before the text narrows its focus to the foundation of the Jewish people relocating from modern Iraq to modern Israel in the story of the Jewish patriarch, Abraham. Much like the nations of the world, the Jews would establish their nation in their land with their own language as descendants of their families’ ancestors of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


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The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

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Ruth, The Completed Jew

Kohelet, An Ode to Abel

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Kohelet, An Ode to Abel

The book of Kohelet, Ecclesisates, always struck me as a peculiar portion to read on the holiday of Sukkot. The Sukkot holiday is described in Jewish prayers as “Zman Simchateynu,”‘ meaning the “time of our happiness.” Yet the book of Kohelet does not inspire such emotions.

From its opening sentences, the author appears intent on giving us full warning about the dark philosophical lesson to be shared over twelve chapters:

דִּבְרֵי֙ קֹהֶ֣לֶת בֶּן־דָּוִ֔ד מֶ֖לֶךְ בִּירוּשָׁלִָֽם׃

The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem.

הֲבֵ֤ל הֲבָלִים֙ אָמַ֣ר קֹהֶ֔לֶת הֲבֵ֥ל הֲבָלִ֖ים הַכֹּ֥ל הָֽבֶל׃

Utter futility!—said Koheleth— Utter futility! All is futile!

King Solomon, the wisest man in the world who built the holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, declared that “everything is futile and without meaning.” Quite a jarring and alarming sentiment. If someone of his intellect, who ruled the united kingdom of Israel at its peak can state that everything is pointless, what should an average person believe? How is such a sentiment to be read and internalized on the happy holiday?

In chapter after chapter, Solomon laid out that every human effort and emotion is for naught. Labor (1:3), beauty (1:8), wisdom (1:13-16), laughter (2:1-2), building projects (2:4-6), amassing wealth (2:7-11) are fleeting and without substance or longevity:

“10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

A man with all the wisdom, power and wealth a person could ever imagine had reached the conclusion that his efforts amounted to nothing. His existence was but a whiff of air.

So a reader is left empty. Sitting in synagogue seats on a Sabbath morning during Sukkot, a person squirms and pivots from Zman Simchateynu, a time of happiness, to depression. Is the true message of the season less about surviving the Day of Judgement at Yom Kippur the week before, to internalizing the temporary nature of life, like the huts Jews live in today during the holiday to commemorate the tents which Jews lived in during their forty years wandering from Egypt to Israel, and the pillar of cloud which God placed to protect them (Exodus 13:20-22)? Hooray, we live! But so what?

Such thoughts are depressing and stand at odds with the sentiment of the holiday. One must imagine that the rabbis who advocated reading Kohelet on Sukkot may have had another message for people to extract from Solomon’s words.

Solomon’s Intent

It is possible that the wise king was simply being modest in Kohelet or did not want to be the focus of the world’s envy regarding his status and accomplishments. It is also conceivable that Solomon was so wise that he was able to see into the future and saw that the kingdom which he ruled would soon be torn apart and that the Temple which he built would one day be destroyed.

“הֲבֵ֧ל הֲבָלִ֛ים אָמַ֥ר הַקּוֹהֶ֖לֶת הַכֹּ֥ל הָֽבֶל׃

Utter futility—said Koheleth— All is futile!” (12:8)

But there is another point worth considering.

The Jewish calendar is arranged so that Kohelet is always read publicly a few days before the Torah is finished and restarted on Simchat Torah. The Torah concludes with the end of Jewish wandering and entering the promised land of their forefathers, paired with the opening stories of the bible relaying the creation of the world and mankind.

Finishing the bible and restarting it has been a cycle which Jews have continued for thousands of years, rereading the first thousands of years of Jewish history over and again.

That history had ups and downs with heroes and villains. In restarting the Torah, Jews have a moment to connect to the stories of their favorite characters. Perhaps it was Noah who saved mankind from the destruction of the flood, or Abraham, the original monotheist, or Joseph who saved the world from starvation or Moses who took the Jewish people out of bondage.

The bible is replete with people who helped form the Jewish people into the nation which would enter their holy land by the end of the Torah. Each had a hand in crafting the character of the people.

That excitement about retelling the stories of the biblical forefathers who charted the history of the Jews is seemingly directly counter to Solomon’s Kohelet message. Solomon wrote that everything is meaningless, but we read the bible and conclude otherwise: people make a big difference.

King Solomon’s message may be more nuanced than our plain reading of Kohelet.

Consider that King Solomon had a different hero than most of us who are pulled by the classic narratives of champions and leaders. His hero was seemingly a more simple person whose only mark was worshiping God wholeheartedly. That person’s name covers the entire book of Kohelet: Abel.

Much is lost in the translation from Hebrew, as “הֶ֙בֶל֙” in Genesis is not transliterated as Hevel but translated as “Abel”, and in Ecclesiates it is translated as “futile” or “meaningless.” However, in Hebrew, the words are identical.

We know little of  הֶ֙בֶל֙/Abel other than he was a shepherd and offered the best of his flock to God for an offering (Genesis 4:4). God accepted the offering and Abel was killed by his brother shortly thereafter. Unlike King Solomon, הֶ֙בֶל֙/Abel had no wife or children, no riches or possessions. We never even learn about any of Abel’s emotions like his family members who were embarrassed (Adam and Eve) or angry (Cain). הֶ֙בֶל֙/Abel simply watched sheep and made an offering to God.

And that was the totality of his life.

For Solomon, הֶ֙בֶל֙/Abel’s name will forever live in its purest form, while his murderer will forever be marked as a villain who could not escape his secret crime.

ט֥וֹב שֵׁ֖ם מִשֶּׁ֣מֶן ט֑וֹב וְי֣וֹם הַמָּ֔וֶת מִיּ֖וֹם הִוָּלְדֽוֹ׃

A good name is better than fragrant oil, and the day of death than the day of birth.” (Kohelet 7:1)

Solomon ended Kohelet with a clear message:

וְיֹתֵ֥ר מֵהֵ֖מָּה בְּנִ֣י הִזָּהֵ֑ר עֲשׂ֨וֹת סְפָרִ֤ים הַרְבֵּה֙ אֵ֣ין קֵ֔ץ וְלַ֥הַג הַרְבֵּ֖ה יְגִעַ֥ת בָּשָֽׂר׃

A further word: Against them, my son, be warned! The making of many books is without limit And much study is a wearying of the flesh.

ס֥וֹף דָּבָ֖ר הַכֹּ֣ל נִשְׁמָ֑ע אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִ֤ים יְרָא֙ וְאֶת־מִצְוֺתָ֣יו שְׁמ֔וֹר כִּי־זֶ֖ה כָּל־הָאָדָֽם׃

The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe His commandments! For this applies to all mankind:

כִּ֤י אֶת־כָּל־מַֽעֲשֶׂ֔ה הָאֱלֹהִ֛ים יָבִ֥א בְמִשְׁפָּ֖ט עַ֣ל כָּל־נֶעְלָ֑ם אִם־ט֖וֹב וְאִם־רָֽע׃

[סוף דבר הכל נשמע את־האלהים ירא ואת־מצותיו שמור כי־זה כל־האדם]

that God will call every creature to account for everything unknown, be it good or bad. The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe His commandments! For this applies to all mankind.” (12:12-14)

Solomon wrote many books during his lifetime and his father, King David, wrote many psalms. But for Solomon, those don’t really matter. At this time of year, the Jewish people are once again about to read together about their foundation story: the central canon of Judaism, the Five Books of Moses. It is the nation’s time to connect to its ancestors.

Kohelet is not read on Sukkot as a way of adding to the happiness of the holiday; it is the preamble to the Torah to consider the way our ancestors lived and how to model our lives. For the rabbis concerned that people will be drawn to the biblical kings and warriors, leaders and builders, the call to read the text through a prism of connecting to God was captured best in Solomon’s Kohelet.

Solomon’s wisdom is summed up with a simple solitary suggestion: to revere God. Every other action or emotion is inconsequential.

A good name lives forever in a story which is read forever. For King Solomon, the purest person who focused solely on God and nothing else was הֶ֙בֶל֙.


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Bilhah and Zilpah Get Their Due

A satire.

Rabbi Jonina Jett finished the last refrain of her song and put the guitar down alongside the holy ark which held the temple’s two torahs. She fixed her pink and white tallit which had slipped down her black leather jacket and moved towards the microphone to address the one hundred or so worshipers.

Her congregation at Sisters of Tikkun Olam in California were used to passionate sermons from their outspoken life minister, but she was clearly more agitated that Saturday morning.

“My dear sisters,” Rabbi Jett began, “today is World Population Day, the day when we all must speak loudly about the real threat of the human population growing wildly out of control. It is a growing risk which has exacerbated climate change and threatens our planet and our very existence.”

She paused to survey her lesbian Jewish parishioners. A few began to nod in agreement, so she leaned in a bit more.

“Bernie Sanders told the world the truth: that we need to think about radical population control to save our world. It is the very essence of tikkun olam, repairing the damage that we have caused.” The very mention of Sanders brought the whole congregation together and everybody nodded in agreement. A few womyn even clapped.

“We are not living in the totalitarian world of “The Handmaid’s Tale” where almost everybody is infertile! It’s the very opposite, where only a few of us holy sisters are taking action with our bodies and choosing to NOT have children while much of the world falls under the weight and might of the patriarchy!” Pay dirt. The call of “patriarchy” brought the crowd to its feet.

Her point made, Rabbi Jett pivoted the speech.

“Yes, yes! We have taken responsibility for our lives and our planet! Each of us has acted in noble ways in our homes. But today I want to talk to you about something we should do as a community, right here in our sanctuary, in our liturgy. I want all of you to open your prayer books to the Amidah, the silent prayer.”

The audience became a congregation again and took their seats, flipping open the prayer books until the found they right page.

“Decades ago, feminist and progressive rabbis altered the opening lines of this central prayer to add the names of the matriarchs of Judaism: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. They broke with the mold of a male-dominated history and connection to God. But they did not do enough.” Becoming emotional, she cleared her throat and took a sip of water before continuing.

“Like all of you, I have watched “The Handmaid’s Tale” several times. I have been shaken to my core at a world that actually does NOT seem so different from our own. A world where women’s bodies are treated as possessions, in which society decides the fate of our beings and our offspring. We must all internalize that this dystopian world is not just a creation of fiction, but has basis in fact. In our own religion.

“Our own matriarchs and patriarchs used women as breeding machines. Four of the twelve tribes were brought into this world by the handmaidens of Rachel and Leah. One-third of the Jewish people.” She paused to let the point sink in. “And we have erased these mothers. Their bodies are not buried in Hebron. We do not speak their names.

“But they have names, and it is time to recognize the dark side of our history.

“There is a pen in front of each of you and I want you to take it and write the names of ‘Bilhah and Zilpah‘ right after our treasured matriarchs. These women are part of our story too. We owe it to them, to the modern day sexual slaves around the world, and to ourselves to remember them each and every day.”

As the congregation dutifully inscribed their prayer books, Rabbi Jett removed her jacket and showed everyone the new tattoos of “Bilhah” and “Zilpah” inked in Hebrew letters on her left forearm. “Let us never forget our fellow women, or we will be doomed to follow their fate.”

While her face was cold and determined, Rabbi Jett smiled to herself as she watched her flock follow her lead mouthing the names of “Bilhah’ and ‘Zilpah’.


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Ruth, The Completed Jew

On the holiday of Shavuot which celebrates the giving of the Torah, we read the story of Ruth. It is, at first glance, a particularly strange choice. Why would Judaism, which has a prohibition against marrying a Moabite (Deuteronomy 23:3) use the story of a marriage to a Moabite, on any holiday, let alone one of the three festivals of pilgrimage, and the one devoted to the giving of the laws?

Peoplehood, Land and Religion

The three festivals represent three parts of the collective Jewish nationhood as told in the five books of Moses:

  • Passover tells the story of Jews becoming a nation, a single people. While they entered Egypt as a single family of 70 souls, they left Egyptian bondage as a people numbering 600,000 men. Their vast numbers yet common experience of slavery and freedom bound them together as a singular nation.
  • The holiday of Sukkot, Tabernacles, represents both the travels and protection of the Jews as well as their final destination in the land of Israel.
  • And the third of the festivals, Shavuot, is about religion. God gave the Jewish people the 10 Commandments on this day, just seven weeks after leaving Egypt.

These three elements are critical to understanding the nature of of the the Jewish people. At the most fundamental level, any Jew is part of the Jewish people, whether or not they observe the commandments in the Bible or live in Israel. A religious Jew who lives in the diaspora or a secular Jew living in Israel appreciate two of the three aspects outlined in the Bible. And a Jew who lives in Israel and observes the Torah’s commandments covers all three elements.

Which brings us to why the Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. Other than Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism who came to the holy land hundreds of years earlier, she is the only person in the Bible who takes upon all three elements upon herself.

Ruth told her mother-in-law Naomi (1:16-17):

וַתֹּ֤אמֶר רוּת֙ אַל־תִּפְגְּעִי־בִ֔י לְעָזְבֵ֖ךְ לָשׁ֣וּב מֵאַחֲרָ֑יִךְ כִּ֠י אֶל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֵּלְכִ֜י אֵלֵ֗ךְ וּבַאֲשֶׁ֤ר תָּלִ֙ינִי֙ אָלִ֔ין עַמֵּ֣ךְ עַמִּ֔י וֵאלֹהַ֖יִךְ אֱלֹהָֽי׃

But Ruth replied, “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God

בַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר תָּמ֙וּתִי֙ אָמ֔וּת וְשָׁ֖ם אֶקָּבֵ֑ר כֹּה֩ יַעֲשֶׂ֨ה יְהוָ֥ה לִי֙ וְכֹ֣ה יֹסִ֔יף כִּ֣י הַמָּ֔וֶת יַפְרִ֖יד בֵּינִ֥י וּבֵינֵֽךְ׃

Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may the LORD do to me if anything but death parts me from you.”

Ruth accepts becoming part of the Jewish people, travels with Naomi back to Bethlehem in the Jewish holy land, and accepts the Jewish God. Ruth, more than any person in the Bible, represents the essence the three pillars of the Jewish Nation. It is for that reason that she was given the honor of being the great grandmother of King David, who united the Jewish people in a single kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital.


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On Heretics and Slanderers

Judaism’s primary daily prayer has two common names in Hebrew, called the Amidah (because a person stands for the prayer), and the Shmoneh Esrei (which means “18” for the 18 blessings in the prayer). However, in reality, the Shmonesh Esrei has 19 blessings, as an additional one was added about 1900 years ago.

The nineteenth blessing was added by Jewish sages due to divisions within Judaism around the 2nd century CE. The background story resonates in some format today.

The Introduction of the 19th Blessing

After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70CE, the traditional model of Temple service was terminated. In its stead, rabbinic Judaism as outlined by the Pharisees, began to take root as the new established norm. It included traditions such as the Oral Law, which became codified in the Gemara or Talmud.

A competing group, the Sadducee sect, did not believe in the Oral Law and rejected the Pharisees’ Gemara. In reaction to that rejection, according to the Gemara in Berakhot 28b and 29a, Rabban Gamliel, the leading rabbi of the 2nd century, considered how to minimize the influence of the Sadducee sect within the Jewish community. In an attempt to keep the Sadducees from infiltrating the minds and hearts of the nation, he had a new blessing composed against these “heretics” to be inserted into the Shmoneh Esrei. As detailed in Berakhot, the goal of inserting the new blessing in the primary prayer was that Sadducees would not join in such service which cursed their efforts, and would disassociate themselves from the community. How could a person stand in prayer with a community that was reciting blessings that cursed them?

Interestingly, the Gemara did not offer a more straightforward explanation of the blessing: that Jews wanted the efforts of these heretics to fail and were collectively rejecting their views of Judaism.

Here is the prayer, as translated in Orthodox prayer books today:

וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה. וְכָל הָרִשְׁעָה כְּרֶגַע תּאבֵד. וְכָל אויְבֵי עַמְּךָ מְהֵרָה יִכָּרֵתוּ. וְהַזֵדִים מְהֵרָה תְעַקֵּר וּתְשַׁבֵּר וּתְמַגֵּר וְתַכְנִיעַ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, שׁובֵר אויְבִים וּמַכְנִיעַ זֵדִים:

And for slanderers may there be no hope; and may all wickedness be destroyed instantly and may all Your enemies be cut down quickly. Quickly uproot, smash, and cast down the arrogant sinners and humble them quickly in our days. Blessed are You, O Lord, Who breaks enemies and humbles arrogant sinners.

Today, the prayer is normally translated to be against as “slanderers” rather than “heretics” as intended 1900 years ago. The difference is significant in terms of intention, but perhaps less meaningful in terms of population, as discussed below.

Heretics

The notion of condemning “heretics” was religion-oriented. These people were “enemies” of God, distorting His laws. They stood against God and were “arrogant sinners,” a corrupting force against organized and unified religious practice.

Seen from today’s perspective, heretics may mean people like “Jews for Jesus.” They are people who nominally state they are within the Jewish community but espouse views that are not in concert with Judaism. As opposed to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and other religions which are viewed as completely distinct from Judaism and therefore neither addressed nor condemned, the blessing targets missionaries within the Jewish fold who seek to distort and undermine rabbinic Judaism.

Slanderers

While heretics are enemies of religion, slanderers are enemies of the people.

Two thousand years ago, the Pharisees and Sadducees did not only split on religious matters, but also on political ones. While the Pharisees delved into the meaning and application of Oral Law, the Sadducees were more politically-oriented. The Sadducees conspired and worked with the Romans, reporting on fellow Jews. They leveraged influence not just for their own benefit, but to undermine and harm fellow Jews.

In modern times, slanderers could mean Jewish groups like “Jewish Voice for Peace.” This organization actively seeks to wage an economic war against all Jews living in the eastern part of the Jewish homeland and much of Israel as well. Another is “J Street” which actively lobbied the US Obama Administration to label Jews living in the Old City of Jerusalem and the “West Bank” as “illegal,” pushing passage of UNSC Resolution 2334.

Orthodox versus Non-Orthodox Prayer Books

The 19th prayer against heretics/slanderers found above is as printed in Orthodox prayer books today. This blessing has been deleted from the Shmoneh Esrei in Reform synagogues. There are a few possible reasons for the active deletion.

Reform Jews may have deleted the blessing as they did not want prayers to include condemnation of fellow Jews. Perhaps they sought a more positive spiritual experience during the prominent prayer service.

It is also possible that some of the editors of the Reform prayer books believed that the blessing was taking aim at themselves as either heretics or slanderers.

The concern regarding heresy is that Reform Judaism broke from thousands of years of rabbinic Judaism in many facets, including believing that the Bible was written by a human, not God, and that the definition of “who is a Jew” is not limited to matrilineal descent but could be passed down from a Jewish father as well.

As it relates to slander, the leading rabbis of the Reform movement are active in groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street, T’ruah and many others that publicly call out Israel on the global stage. While they believe they are striving to hold Israel to a high standard, there is no question as to their criticizing fellow Jews. Knowing that the 19th blessing was composed by Orthodox rabbis who were trying to enforce conformity and control, deleting the blessing could have been an attempt to free themselves of traditional constraints.

Whichever reason, the Orthodox (and still the Conservative branch of Judaism) is in the minority in keeping the blessing, as the Reform, Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal branches of Judaism have deleted it. The non-Orthodox branches are the largest in the United States and do not fear being marginalized like the Sadducees of 1900 years ago. They have their own synagogues and do not need to pray in the handful of Orthodox shuls where the blessing against heretics is recited.

Israel Today

In Jerusalem, there is a cemetery on Emek Refaim Street that is run by a group affiliated with Jews for Jesus. They consider themselves proud advocates for the Jewish State, but also seek to convert Jews.

Mural from the wall above the cemetery in Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street
showing scenes from the Bible
(photo: FirstOneThrough)

While Israel allows all religions to operate openly within its borders, it prohibits missionary work. The heretics who run the cemetery know this, and are careful with how they distribute their literature, walking a fine line of sharing information while avoiding proselytizing.

The Jewish State has also begun to take a more forceful response to slanderers and those that actively seek to harm Israel and Israelis. Specifically, groups like Code Pink and Jewish Voice for Peace which lobby governments to sanction Israel and boycott goods are being stopped from entering the country.

It is likely not a coincidence that the government of Israel has begun to act against slanderers, and the fact that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is a political creature which only has Orthodox rabbis. Orthodox Judaism seeks a protective fence around religious practice and the Jewish people, and the rabbis have no issues calling out people who break from the insular fold and bring in external political forces to harm Israeli Jews. A theoretical office of the Chief Rabbinate which included all of the other branches of Judaism would likely not only redefine who is a Jew and the types of marriages that could be practiced in Israel, it would also likely greet Code Pink with a welcome banner at the airport.


There is a gap in the Jewish people, just as there was thousands of years ago: there are those that believe in traditional rabbinic Judaism and those that reject it. There are those that seek to slander and malign fellow Jews to the world and those that condemn such actions.

The Sadducees of 2,000 years ago ultimately faded away, while the rabbinic Judaism of the Pharisees became the established norm. Yet over the last few hundred years, new branches of Judaism emerged which initially only challenged the traditional rabbinic view of Judaism, and now confronts fellow Jews as well. It is the Sadducees Redux.

The divide within Judaism is not new; it was just dormant. The schism manifests itself when the Jews have power to control their own destiny, as opposed to 1900 years when they were helpless minorities scattered around the world. The questions for today are whether the Pharisees (Orthodox) or Sadducees Redux (Non-Orthodox/ Progressives) will prevail in defining the future of the Jewish people, and whether they will destroy themselves and the Zionist experiment in the process.


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Not Remembering, Forgetting and Never Knowing

While the Bible is one of the oldest texts in history, it contains important lessons about memory and history within its own stories.

One of the great episodes in the book of Genesis was about Joseph interpreting dreams for a baker and cup-bearer while they all sat in prison. Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams of both people, with the baker ultimately being killed while the cup-bearer was returned to his position in court. In exchange for his services, Joseph only asked that the cup-bearer remember him so that he could also gain his freedom: “Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.” (Genesis 40:14)

But the cup-bearer did not do as Joseph asked: “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” (Genesis 40:23)

The text above is seemingly redundant. Why state that the cupbearer both “did not remember” Joseph and then again “forgot him”?

Was this dynamic a precursor for the story of Joseph played out years later, when Joseph was forgotten again after he died? “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8)

Not Remembering versus Forgetting

Not remembering someone is seemingly not a malicious act. A person could not be remembered because of other activities which gathered more attention or because the person was simply not present.

As opposed to not remembering which is a passive act, forgetting is an active verb. It suggests a willful desire to not recall a person or action.

In the world of social media, not remembering could be akin to not thinking of someone because they didn’t post anything for some time. Forgetting someone would be closer to unfriending the person. The former is a momentary occasion that comes from a lack of stimuli, whereas the latter comes from deliberate dismissal.

In the Bible story, the cupbearer may have not remembered Joseph because he was busy attending to Pharaoh. However, the forgetting of Joseph may have been a deliberate disregard for Joseph because he had nothing to offer anymore. Only when the cupbearer heard of Pharaoh’s dreams and had a chance to gain his master’s good graces, was Joseph actively recalled. Forgetting was tied to self-absorption and selfishness.

Not Knowing

One could perhaps forgive the new king of Egypt for not knowing Joseph as relayed in the beginning of Exodus. If two people never met – perhaps because they lived in different generations – there was obviously no ill will, just circumstances.

But the introduction of Exodus tells us not to be so casual in the reading of the new king not knowing Joseph.

Exodus 1:1 “These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family.” The bible had just ended Genesis with a full accounting of the children of Jacob; why list them here?

Rashi states that it was because the children of Jacob were dear to God and therefore worth remembering, even when deceased. Other commentators say that the extra word “names” in the sentence conveys that their reputations continued to live on.

If that is so, how could it be that Joseph – more famous than any of Jacob’s sons – who had saved Egypt and the entire Middle East from famine a generation earlier, could not have been remembered by the new Egyptian king? Did the prior generation passively not remember and actively forget the efforts of Joseph just like the cupbearer? It seems unfathomable that such events and good deeds could have been easily forgotten. The “not knowing” seemingly was connected to active disinformation to disassociate Joseph from Egypt’s success through the famine. Perhaps the new Egyptian king sought to elevate the reputation of himself and his family by rewriting history.

The Bible tells us right after the new king’s unfamiliarity with Joseph, that the Israelites were viewed with suspicion and then enslaved. Historic allies became enemies. People who had lived together side-by-side were suddenly in a hierarchical ecosystem.

When the cupbearer forgot Joseph, a single person forgot a single person’s actions, and the repercussion was that Joseph remained in prison. However, when the actions of Joseph saving all of Egypt were wiped from memory, the entirety of the Jewish people became enslaved.

The situation of denying history with horrible consequences continues today.

Jews in Israel Today

The history of Jews in Israel is not only being forgotten, it is being rewritten.

Over the past few decades, the Arab and Muslim world have been very active in denying and recasting Jewish history.

  • Holocaust denial. The leaders of Iran and the Palestinian Authority have taken a variety of approaches in denying the deliberate slaughter of 6 million Jews in Europe, ranging from denying that the event happened to arguing that Zionists plotted with the Nazis to enable the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine (yes, that was the essence of Mahmoud Abbas’ doctoral thesis).
  • The Jewish State was founded in reaction to the Holocaust. In a curious bit of mind-bending, the same people that deny the Holocaust existed, argue that the world gave Palestine to the Jews out of guilt. The 3,500 years of Jewish history is ignored as are the modern international laws of 1920 and 1922 (which predate the Holocaust), explicitly laying out the history of Jews in Palestine and reestablishing their homeland.
  • No Jews lived in Israel. The Arab and Muslim world deny that Jews have any history in Israel. They have gone to such lengths as to hold up the United Nations from putting on a display showcasing Jews’ 3,500 year history in Israel.
  • There was Never a Temple in Jerusalem. Yasser Arafat and various members of the Arab and Muslim world have denied the existence of the two Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
  • Jerusalem is a Muslim city. The city of Jerusalem (both eastern and western) has had a Jewish majority since the 1860s. You’d have a hard time knowing that from the consistent lies that Jerusalem is losing its “Arab character.”
  • Palestinians are Canaanites. Beyond denying Jewish history, Palestinian leaders have tried to rewrite their own history, stating that Palestinians are descendants of Canaanites who predate Abraham’s arrival in Israel, even though Arabs only arrived en masse to Israel in the 7th century (the descendants of ancient Canaanites are actually Lebanese). More “Palestinian” Arabs arrived during the British Mandate 1922-1948, than Jews, from countries including Iraq and Egypt.

These are not examples of “not remembering” or forgetting, but much more aggressive deliberate denials of history. And the aim of the Jew-haters is clear: cement the position that Jews are interlopers and foreign colonialists in Arab land. That is the revised history which they want people to know.

The Arab and Muslim countries use their vast numbers – over 1.6 billion people and over 50 countries – to change Jewish history at the United Nations and in school textbooks where they are in power.

  • UN resolutions refer to the Jewish Temple Mount by an Arabic name
  • UN agency resolutions claim that Israel is changing the Arab character of Jerusalem
  • UN resolutions condemn Israel for changing the Muslim character of Jewish sites such as the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs in Hebron and the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem

As the eradication of Jewish heritage and history takes root, the next generation of millennials have begun to look at Jews in Israel with disgust. Why are all of these Jews in Arab land? Like Pharaoh in ancient times, they do not know the long and deep history of Jews in the holy land. For the millennials and progressives, those “facts” are stories of fantasy only believed by Evangelical Christians and far-right Orthodox Jews. The only history they know and accept is presented by AJ+ and those backed by Arab and Muslim money funneled into their universities.

Corrective Course

For those who care about history – and remembering actual history – there are a number of actions to take:

  • Insert the word “Jewish” into the Sites. Whether it’s on road signs or maps, whether it’s the Cave of the JEWISH Patriarchs or the JEWISH Temple Mount, reinforce history, be clear that these have always been Jewish sites.
  • Mark HISTORIC dates of Israel’s cities, not just modern ones. It is wonderful to celebrate Jerusalem Day in June on the anniversary of Jerusalem being reunited. But why not celebrate the day that King David took the city 3,000 years ago; mark Hebron Day when Abraham bought the Cave of Machpelah to bury his wife Sarah.; Jericho Day, for when Joshua conquered the first city when the Jews came back to their Promised Land; etc.
  • Teach Tanakh in schools. Jewish Day Schools barely teach the stories of the prophets. Only 18 of the 54 parshas in the Torah have a haftorah which includes a section from the historical accounts described in Joshua, Judges, Samuel I & II and Kings I & II. And these short sections are often ignored by people when read on Sabbath. Young and old Jews need to better understand their own history and should read the stories together with maps laying out where the events took place.
  • Endow Israel Studies programs at universities. Iran and Saudi Arabia are funding universities throughout the United States. It is no surprise that the schools getting multi-million dollar gifts for Persian studies like UC Berkeley and Princeton, also have many anti-Israel professors. It is time to have more than three American universities with strong Israel studies programs.
  • Observe Judaism in Israel. The Bible commands Jews – at a minimum a Jewish king – to write a sefer Torah, so have a permanent sofer, a Torah scribe, at the Kotel or at the City of David just south of the Jewish Temple Mount where Kings David and Solomon had their palaces. Replace the siren that marks the entry of Sabbath and Jewish holidays with the sound of a shofar from the same loudspeakers. Mark every field that observes shmita with a large sign, including the verses from the bible declaring such law. etc.

The United States and other countries can also take actions:

Reject any UN Resolution out of hand that does not:

  • mention the “Jewish Temple Mount” when referencing the “Al Aqsa Compound”
  • note that Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since the 1860s whenever it discusses the “Arab character of Jerusalem”
  • Refer to the region as “Judea and Samaria” whenever it refers to the “West Bank”
  • Comment that the Jordanians and Palestinians ethnically cleansed Judea and Samaria and the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1949, in any resolution which accuses Israel of committing “ethnic cleansing”

Arab and Muslim nations have waged an assault on Jewish history, and the alt-left have become willing disciples. People who care about truth, Jews and Zionism must counter this affront with a comparable campaign to remember and not forget the long and remarkable history of Jews in the Jewish holy land.


Related First.One.Through articles:

The Cave of the Jewish Matriarch and Arab Cultural Appropriation

The Countries that Acknowledge the Jewish Temple May Surprise You

Squeezing Zionism

Iran’s New Favorite Jewish Scholars

The UN’s Disinterest in Jewish Rights at Jewish Holy Places

The New York Times Inverts the History of Jerusalem

The New York Times will Keep on Telling You: Jews are not Native to Israel

Losing the Temples, Knowledge and Caring

In Defense of Foundation Principles

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The Cave of the Jewish Matriarch and Arab Cultural Appropriation

This weekend, Jews around the world will read the weekly portion of Chayai Sarah, the Lives of Sarah.

The story is told in Genesis chapter 23 of Abraham buying a plot of land in Kiryat Arba (Hebron) to bury his wife Sarah. Verses 10 through 20 relay the story of Abraham’s negotiation to buy the land from Ephron the Hittite. The transaction represents the first purchase of land recorded in the Bible, cementing God’s earlier promise of the holy land to Abraham in hard fact.

Sarah is a particular and divisive character in the Bible. In her attempt to protect her only son Isaac, Sarah demanded that Abraham send away his first son Ishmael whom he had with another woman. God tells Abraham that the familial divide is a good idea, to follow Sarah’s suggestion and send Ishmael away, and that each son will grow to become a great nation. Sarah’s son Isaac would have progeny who would become the Jews, and Ishmael’s children would become the Arab nation.

Abraham would ultimately be buried next to his wife Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah which he bought for her, as would Isaac and his wife, and Abraham’s grandson Jacob and three of his four wives/ maidens. The family burial chamber became one of the holiest locations for Jews (second only to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem).

Medallion of Cave of Machpelah on the roof of the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem
(photo: First.One.Through)

Roughly 1,700 years after the Jewish matriarchs and patriarchs were buried, King Herod built a large building on top of the cave (around 2,000 years ago). The building remains very similar to the structure he built at that time.

But Jews would ultimately lose control of their holy site. When the Arabs invaded the holy land in the 7th and 8th century in their wave of bringing Islam to the world, they took over Herod’s edifice. While all of the people buried in the location were Jews, the Arabs claimed the entirety of the site due to their connection to Abraham. The Arabs barred any Jew from entering the building for over 1,000 years.

That changed in 1967.

After Jordan illegally annexed the city of Hebron/Kiryat Arba in 1950, they attacked Israel and lost the city in 1967. With the Jewish State assuming control of the city, it allowed Jews – and all faiths – to return to the building to visit and worship.


The Cave of the Jewish Matriarchs and Patriarchs is the site of the very first Jewish burial. It contains the remains of six of the seven original Jews (the seventh is located in the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem). It has been a pilgrimage site for Jews for thousands of years.

But the Arab and Muslim invasion stole that legacy. Over their thousand plus-years of control, the Muslim Arabs attempted to strip the site of its Jewish heritage and turned the building into a mosque. The capstone of their cultural appropriation was banning all Jews from the site.

That is now in the past.

The Torah portion of Chayei Sarah will be read by thousands of Jews in Kiryat Arba this weekend, in a celebration reclaiming history, land, holy site and Jewish rights which had been robbed from Jews for generations.


Related First.One.Through articles:

It is Time to Insert “Jewish” into the Names of the Holy Sites

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Shabbat Hagadol at the Third Hurva Synagogue, 2010

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A Sofer at the Kotel

Jews around the world just finished reading the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, and promptly began to start the Bible again from the beginning. The time between finishing the public reading and recommencing the weekly recitation was only a few minutes. For Jews, the Bible is a living document that is always being read and learned. There is no “finishing” the Bible; just completing it and commencing again in rapid succession.

The holiday of completing the weekly Torah readings is called Simchat Torah, the Joy of the Bible. The Jewish religious denominations take different approaches to mark the holiday. Hasidic men may be seen dancing in circles with Torahs in the streets; many Reform Temples unfurl the entire Torah with men, women and children holding a section in a large circle. There is a common moment of celebration, but unique methods of celebrating.

With such thoughts about the recent holiday, it is time to advance a principle which is inscribed towards the end of the Pentateuch: to write a Torah.

Some biblical commentators believe that biblical commandment is only applicable to kings; others have said that the king need not actually write the Torah, but to own one. Still others have suggested that the commandment is for everyone to participate in the writing of the Torah, perhaps by paying a scribe, a sofer, to write one on their behalf.

This post is a proposal is to have a permanent sofer at the Western Wall, the Kotel, so everyone can participate in the mitzvah.

Background Issues

  1. Political. Discussions regarding Jerusalem, the Old City and the Kotel have been trapped in politics for many years. Who has or should have sovereignty and control is debated everywhere, with various advocates supporting Israel, the Palestinians, the Jordanian Waqf and the international community. Many leaders have sought to avoid the inherent religious nature of the location as they fear inflaming passions and violence among the three major monotheistic religions.
  2. Jewish Religious denominations. The Kotel plaza is currently caught in a fight within the various Jewish denominations. Recently, a dedicated space for non-Orthodox prayer has taken steps forwards-and-backwards, such as the expanded prayer area at Robinson’s Arch being approved and disapproved. The Jewish community outside of Israel (which is mostly non-Orthodox) has taken a sharply negative attitude towards Israel on this point, which is harmful on multiple levels to Israel and Jews worldwide.
  3. Education and performing a Mitzvah. Many people who come to the Kotel do not have a deep understanding of Judaism. They are foreigners who see an archaeological site caught in a political quagmire. Their visits often lack deeper religious engagement.
  4. Bridging the Israeli Ashkenazi and Sefaradi Communities. While the two communities often lead distinct lives, there is a chance for the two groups to create something together and forge a common bond, especially in Jerusalem.

The Opportunity

  1. Large Attendance. Jerusalem’s Old City – and the Kotel in particular – attracts millions of people a year. However, there has been no concerted attempt to actively engage the pilgrims and tourists in anything of religious or spiritual consequence. The plaza is simply an open space for pictures and pan-handlers.
  2. Spiritual Center. While the most sacred spot for Judaism is not the Kotel but the Temple Mount itself, it is the Kotel that has served as the religious symbol for Jews since the time of Suleiman I in the 1500s. While there is daily prayer at the Kotel, can there be more religious engagement?

Bar Mitzvah party entering the Old City of Jerusalem through Zion’s Gate
(photo: First.One.Through)

The Proposal

  1. Sofer at Kotel. The issues above can be addressed by adding a small building (about 47 feet wide) at the back of the Kotel plaza which would house a sofer who would write a Torah six days a week from 8:00am to 8:00pm. By giving a donation, visitors would be able to participate in the mitzvah of writing a Torah, as they observe the sofer write a word on their behalf.
  2. Ashkenazi and Sefardi approved. There would be both Ashekanzi and Sefardi sofers that would be approved by the chief rabbis of each group. The finished Torahs would alternate between being housed in an Ashkenazi and Sefaradi cases.
  3. One Sefer published each year. A Torah would be completed each year around Simchat Torah. The Kotel plaza would have a large celebration at the completion of the sefer.
  4. The World’s Gifts to Israel. The first two Torahs (first Sefaradi and second year Ashkenazi) would be housed at the Kotel itself. In future years, the Torahs would be sent around Israel to shuls, schools, hospitals and army bases.
  5. Everyone can participate. A woman from sherut leumi will welcome each participant in the entry room of the building, just outside of the sofer’s room. They will accept a donation of any sum from the visitor which will go towards the Kotel Torah effort. A pruta, or penny, will be enough to “purchase” a single letter in the Torah, and minimum donation levels for a word or a sentence. The participant will have the option of having a picture taken with the sofer, and having their name, city, and country be included among the thousands participating in the writing of the sefer Torah.
  6. The Sofer building. The building would not be very large. It would resemble an Ashkenazi Torah scroll viewed from above: narrow rectangular entry and exit room on either sides (each about 10’ by 16’) and a broader rectangle in the middle for the sofer which will have a large window providing natural light and for people to peer in. The roof with have a conical dome in the middle above the sofer’s room, to resemble a Sefardi Torah case when viewed from street level.
    1. The entry room will have materials for signing in, and a digital map showing where all of the participants for the current Torah have come from. Exhibits explaining how a Torah is written will be on the walls.
    2. The sofer’s room will have materials and the desk for the sofer, and room for a photographer to take pictures with the participants.
    3. The exit room will have materials related to restoring Torahs and digital tools like Sefaria and the Bar Ilan project.

Concern

Everything around the Kotel involves a global outcry. The United Nations has gone to such extreme and absurd levels that it has condemned Israel for mundane items like placing an umbrella in the Kotel Plaza. Placing a building at the back of the Plaza might generate similar protest, however, limiting its size may ameliorate some of the concerns, as well as not having any national flags atop the structure.

Conclusion

Bringing a sofer to the Kotel will hopefully allow all Jews to engage with the Judaism’s holiest space in a religious manner. Everyone would have a chance to perform the special mitzvah – even those with no knowledge of Hebrew and limited Jewish education. Participants will not only view the site from a physical and political basis, but also from a spiritual one.

For Israel, this can be a fence-mending opportunity. The global non-Orthodox community which feels disconnected from Israel and its Orthodox religious leaders will be able to stand in line and participate in writing the very same Torah as Orthodox Jews. This is a chance to open religion and the Kotel to everyone around the world.

There is a song that will be sung in a continuous loop at the building that houses the permanent sofer at the Kotel, words from the prophets Isaiah and Micha: “For the Torah shall come forth from Zion, and the words of God from Jerusalem.” Words that will hopefully bring unity to Jews around the world.

וְֽהָלְכ֞וּ גּוֹיִ֣ם רַבִּ֗ים וְאָֽמְרוּ֙ לְכ֣וּ ׀ וְנַעֲלֶ֣ה אֶל־הַר־יְהוָ֗ה וְאֶל־בֵּית֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יַעֲקֹ֔ב וְיוֹרֵ֙נוּ֙ מִדְּרָכָ֔יו וְנֵלְכָ֖ה בְּאֹֽרְחֹתָ֑יו כִּ֤י מִצִּיּוֹן֙ תֵּצֵ֣א תוֹרָ֔ה וּדְבַר־יְהוָ֖ה מִירוּשָׁלִָֽם׃

“And the many nations shall go and shall say: “Come, Let us go up to the Mount of the LORD, To the House of the God of Jacob; That He may instruct us in His ways, And that we may walk in His paths.” For instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Micha 4:2) (Isaiah 2:3)


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Israel’s Nation-State Basic Law is Not Based on Religion

There are a few democratic countries that do not have formalized constitutions such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the State of Israel. These governments occasionally issue broad laws to outline the basic principles of government. Israel did just that in July 2018.

Israel’s 2018 Basic Law of the Nation-State of the Jewish People was interesting for what it omitted as much as for what it included.

The focus of the law was about the connection between the nation, the land and the people. Specifically, the law outlined the connection between the modern state of Israel, the Jewish people and the Jewish Holy Land.

But the law clearly omitted the religion of the Jews, Judaism.

The law had no preamble about the God of Judaism’s forefathers of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the way that Ireland begins its constitution about Jesus and the Trinity.

The law did not declare Judaism as the State of Israel’s official religion, nor did it declare that there was an official “church” or head rabbi in the country. Such laws are found in several democracies such as for Roman Catholicism in Costa Rica and for the Eastern Orthodox Church in Greece.

Israel’s Basic Law did not declare that the leader of the country needed to belong to the official government church. Such a law can be found in Denmark’s constitution regarding the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The law did not mandate that Judaism must be taught in school, a law that is found about Catholicism in Malta.

The law did not even state that Israel’s laws are based on Jewish values and inspired by the Jewish prophets as was stated in the country’s Declaration of Independence. Such a statement about Christianity features prominently in the constitution of Norway. Panama’a constitution mentions “Christian morality,” while Peru’s constitution calls out the “Catholic Church as an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral formation” of the country.

As a matter of fact, the Basic Law seemed to go to pains to not even refer to religion.

The law refrained from using the words “God,” “Judaism,” “Holy Land,” “sacred,” or “religion” anywhere in the text. While the law declared the “Hatikvah” as the national anthem, that anthem similarly avoids using any religious language. That’s in sharp contrast to 34 democracies that use “God” or “Lord” in their anthems including Canada, Italy and Switzerland, and others that specifically refer to Christianity such as in the Netherlands and Romania .

The 2018 Basic Law simply detailed that the Jewish people were connected to the land of Israel because of history. Yet in doing so, the law opted to not also underscore the deep religious and unique connection that Jews have for all of the land of Israel, and particularly for Judaism’s holiest city of Jerusalem.


Seal of King Hezekiah found at the southern Temple Mount in Jerusalem
who reigned c.715 – 686 BCE

The emphasis of Israel’s 2018 Basic Law related to the essence of Jews are a people, not adherents to a religion. International law in 1920 recognized “the historical connexion of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” In 2018, Israel took that same step of laying out the long and deep connection between the Jewish people to the land of Israel, realized in the modern state of Israel.


Tel Dan Stele from c.840 BCE found in southern Syria referring to the “House of David”

Jews are the modern Israelites that had kingdoms in Canaan, Israel and Judah. Israel’s 2018 Basic Law affirmed that historical connection between the people and the land, and laid out the initial markings which characterize the reincarnation of the indigenous people in the modern State of Israel.

It is remarkable that Israel chose not to define itself by religion when so many democracies do so.


Related First.One.Through articles:

A Response to Rashid Khalidi’s Distortions on the Balfour Declaration

750 Years of Continuous Jewish Jerusalem

Abbas’s Speech and the Window into Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism

From the Balfour Declaration to the San Remo Conference

In Defense of Foundation Principles

Squeezing Zionism

The UN’s Disinterest in Jewish Rights at Jewish Holy Places

Gimme that Old-Time Religion

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Religious Democracies (music by Bob Marley)

God is a Zionist (music by Joan Osborne)

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